NBC Sports has extended its stewardship of the English Premier League through 2028, retaining the exclusive rights to broadcast matches from the top-tier soccer organization in a deal said to be worth some $2.6 billion.
In defending its turf, NBC beat back bids from other eager media conglomerates, including a joint salvo by Disney and ViacomCBS. The Premier League is an integral part of the NBC Sports portfolio, as it is one of a very few content plays that serves up world-class athletic competition while not stinting on volume. During the 2020-21 EPL campaign, NBC and its cable and streaming siblings carried 340 match windows, a slate that accounted for 914 hours of live coverage.
Speaking to reporters on a conference call Thursday evening, NBC Sports chairman Pete Bevacqua said that keeping the Premier League in the family was Job One for the company, as the fixtures are of critical importance for growing affiliate revenues at the flagship broadcast network and the ad-supported cable channels. The EPL is also a key driver of Peacock subscriptions.
Bevacqua and Jon Miller, president of programming at NBC Sports Group, said the Premier League would continue to have a home on NBCUniversal’s linear TV channels, although the balance of matches presented by NBC and USA Network is likely to evolve as the streaming service begins to pick up steam. The last time NBC parent Comcast disclosed Peacock’s subscriber count was during the cable giant’s second quarter earnings call, when chairman and CEO Brian Roberts told investors that the DTC play had amassed “54 million signups and over 20 million monthly active accounts.”
Financial terms were not disclosed.
“We have this platform flexibility which sets us well for the future … but absolutely, our intent is to maintain a strong linear presence on NBC and USA,” Bevacqua said. Miller added that matches that originate on NBC will continue to be simulcast via Peacock, but there is no plan to begin streaming the cable-TV fixtures. (Keeping those matches exclusive to USA will go a long way toward maintaining the goodwill of the cable and satellite-TV operators that pay Comcast $1.68 per sub per month for the right to carry the network’s signal.)
USA will succeed NBCSN as the cable home of the EPL after the latter network closes shop on Dec. 31.
Miller noted that one of the things helping NBC Sports stand out from the nine suitors that had tried to displace the incumbent was the reverence that informs the company’s dealings with the EPL. “We are the network of the Premier League, not the network of soccer,” Miller said, in a nod to the recent spree of overseas acquisitions made by CBS and ESPN. “We put them on an equal footing with all our properties.”
As such, NBC doesn’t seem to be a likely candidate to snatch up the next soccer rights deal that hits the wire. Miller said that while his team would look at other opportunities as they arise, for NBC the prevailing philosophy is to “have the best of the best.” For NBC Sports, the Premier League clearly represents the acme of the soccer universe.
“When we first acquired the rights, they had been split between three partners: ESPN, Fox and Univision. And while those entities did a great job, [the EPL] wasn’t made a priority,” Miller said.
While NBC believed it had the inside track throughout the bidding process, Bevacqua said at no point did anyone at 30 Rock take anything for granted. “We knew it was going to be an incredibly competitive process,” Bevacqua said. “We knew we were going to have to be aggressive strategically and financially. … For us, it was an all-or-nothing proposition. But we had a nine-year head start, so of course that helped.”
NBC Sports’ Premier League coverage this season is averaging 609,000 viewers across the company’s English- and Spanish-language windows, marking the strongest deliveries since the 2015-16 campaign.
(This story has been updated throughout with information and quotes from NBC’s press conference.)